1

I come across many sentences that I fail to undertand why the authors have used the definite article, the.

For example, look at the following sentence. This is the first sentence (in introduction) of a journal article.

The activities in a supply chain have the role of transforming raw materials into finished products that are delivered from the supplier to the end customer.

I don't understand why the author has used the before supplier and end customer. I don't know who is the supplier or who is the end customer.

How about if we write in the following way. In fact, I have also seen such variants in the introductory paragraph of some artciles. Are the 1, 2, and 3 correct and carry the same meaning in this context?

  1. The activities in a supply chain have the role of transforming raw materials into finished products that are delivered from a supplier to an end customer.

  2. The activities in a supply chain have the role of transforming raw materials into finished products that are delivered from suppliers to end customers.

  3. The activities in a supply chain have the role of transforming raw materials into finished products that are delivered from supplier to end customer.

I believe there are subtle differences that nonnative speakers can't understand. Could you reveal the mystery of the?

  • This question would be more appropriately asked on our sister site, English Language Learners, with two caveats: one, it will probably be closed as a duplicate of another question, because articles are a common source of confusion for English learners, and two, though this question has probably been asked and answered, a good litmus test for asking anything on any StackExchange site is: if you can imagine the answer to the question filling up a good essay or even a monograph, it's not a great question for SE. StackExchange wants definitive answers to factual questions, no studies or essays. – Dan Bron Aug 17 '15 at 11:47
  • 1
    You must realize that every language has its idiosyncrasies. We use definite articles for some general statements where other languages might not, and vice versa. Why do we say in English "I wake up Fridays at seven," dropping the articles, where a Spanish speaker would absolutely include them ("Me levanto los viernes a las siete")? Asking why this is so is simply not productive. A better strategy would be to simply learn the language by observing how things are done and leave alone why they are done that way. – Robusto Aug 17 '15 at 12:25
  • @Robusto For reasons unrelated to this question, I'm seeking a paper or text on the topic of language not being rational. Something that goes into detail, which provides both clear arguments and examples. Do you happen to know of such a work? If not, can you think of any technical terms or jargon which describe this well-established phenomenon or words which would necessarily or very likely be used in a treatment of it? Because the naive expectation (or sometimes insistence) that language must make sense is so widespread, I'm sure such a paper must exist. – Dan Bron Aug 17 '15 at 12:39
  • Thanks for your reply. As you suggest, learning by observing is the key to become a writer on the field. – Syed Ali Aug 17 '15 at 12:40
  • @Dan Bron, i hope to post on English Language Learners next time. – Syed Ali Aug 17 '15 at 12:46
2

The activities in a supply chain have the role of transforming raw materials into finished products that are delivered from the supplier to the end customer.

The definite articles in this sentence are not obligatory; but their use is perfectly reasonable.

You say:

I don't know who is the supplier or who is the end customer.

I respond, Yes, you do. A supply chain is posited at the beginning of the sentence: The activities in a supply chain. Every supply chain includes, by definition, a final customer who receives products and a supplier who, well, supplies the products to the customer. Those are the final customer and the supplier of which the sentence speaks: not just any supplier or any customer but the customer and supplier involved in that particular supply chain.

  • Ohh. It sounds much interesting. I see the beauty of English here. @StoneyB – Syed Ali Aug 18 '15 at 4:09

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.